The Best Langston Hughes Poems To Get Started With

I first came across Langston Hughes poems in my second year of university, in a class called Modern American Literature. Between readings of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and William Carlos Williams’s The Red Wheelbarrow, we squeezed in a few classes on the Harlem Renaissance, which prominently featured Langston Hughes and some of his more political poems.

I fell in love with it almost instantaneouslyfrom the themes of seeking freedom from black oppression in America, and his poetry’s roots in African American history, to the jazzy rhythm that his poetry is best known for. He was a prolific writer of poetry, so it can be difficult to know exactly where to get started. Here’s where I recommend starting with Langston Hughes poems.

The Weary Blues

Langston Hughes and music go hand-in-hand, so it’s really best to listen to his poetry rather than simply read it. You can’t go wrong with his famous poem, The Weary Blues, which you can find with blues accompaniment.

The Weary Blues is also the name of his first poetry collection, which is a wonderful book to introduce anyone to Hughes’s poetry. It includes some of his very well-known poems, such as The Negro Speaks of Rivers and Cross, and is filled with poetry that delves into the stark, painful realities of African American experiences. At the same time, the collection is also filled with poems about dancing, music, and nature.

Long Trip

The sea is a wilderness of waves,
A desert of water.
We dip and dive,
Rise and roll,
Hide and are hidden
On the sea.
Day, night,
Night, day,
The sea is a desert of waves,
A wilderness of water.

Danse Africaine

The low beating of the tom-toms,

The slow beating of the tom-toms,
Low…slow
Slow…low—
Stirs your blood.
Dance!
A night-veiled girl
Whirls softly into a
Circle of light.
Whirls softly…slowly,
Like a wisp of smoke around the fire—
And the tom-toms beat,
And the tom-toms beat,
And the low beating of the tom-toms
Stirs your blood.

Montage Of A Dream Deferred

Another famous Hughes poem is Dream Deferred, which appears in his collection, Montage of A Dream Deferred. The collection once more combines jazz with the oppression of black people in America. It also includes many poems that center on Harlem.

Juke Box Love Song

I could take the Harlem night
and wrap around you,
Take the neon lights and make a crown,
Take the Lenox Avenue busses,
Taxis, subways,
And for your love song tone their rumble down.
Take Harlem’s heartbeat,
Make a drumbeat,
Put it on a record, let it whirl,
And while we listen to it play,
Dance with you till day
Dance with you, my sweet brown Harlem girl.

Dream Boogie

Good morning, daddy!
Ain’t you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred?

Listen closely:
You’ll hear their feet
Beating out and beating out a

You think
It’s a happy beat?

Listen to it closely:
Ain’t you heard
something underneath
like a

What did I say?

Sure,
I’m happy!
Take it away!

Hey, pop!
Re-bop!
Mop!

Y-e-a-h!

The Panther and the Lash

Hughes’s last collection, The Panther and the Lash contain some of my favourite works by him. It includes some poems where Hughes compares the experience of African Americans with Jesus, along with poems that confront racism and black oppression head-on.

Christ In Alabama

Christ is a nigger,
Beaten and black:
Oh, bare your back!

Mary is His mother:
Mammy of the South,
Silence your mouth.

God is His father:
White Master above
Grant Him your love.

Most holy bastard
Of the bleeding mouth,
Nigger Christ
On the cross
Of the South.

Black Panther

Pushed into the corner
Of the hobnailed boot,
Pushed into the corner of the
“I-don’t-want-to-die cry,
Pushed into the corner of
“I don’t want to study war no more,”
Changed into “Eye for eye,”

The Panther in his desperate boldness
Wears no disguise,
Motivated by the truest
Of the oldest
Lies.

You can find more of Langston Hughes poems and his brilliant body of work here, including many poems from the collections mentioned in this post!

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